Over the past year and a half, I’ve become a multilingual designer. Not just bilingual (please…) — MULTI-lingual.
Everyone sees things differently, and that means that not everyone describes visual elements the same way. Sure, your cones and rods are partially to blame here, but I’m talking about design terminology. I’ve learned that every client speaks their own visual language, and, in turn, it’s my job to interpret it. As a designer, it’s extremely important to build a relationship with the client to better understand their vocabulary, and properly link what they describe to what they actually see.
There are 5 easy steps to mastering communication of visual concepts and interpretation of “client speak”.
1. See their point of view.
Everyone has a unique vantage point and a slightly customized pair of permanent glasses. For example, we’ve all seen the optical illusion with the old woman and the young girl.
Why is it that some people are immediately predisposed to visualize one or the other?
Our brains work differently. We’re drawn to different elements, we see different images in the clouds, we articulate experiences in different ways. At Proof, how we bring together various perspectives is part of what determines a successful project.
2. Pay attention.
To properly understand my clients, I need to listen closely and ask the right questions. I try to put myself in their shoes. How would I describe something if I wasn’t an artist by trade? What terminology would I use if I didn’t have design school training?
This is a hard one, because no matter how thoroughly the client explains a concept, there’s still room for misinterpretation. Before I leave a meeting, I make sure all my initial questions are answered, and try to think critically about ones that might come up halfway through the design process. Relying on what I think I hear and not confirming communication can mean getting it wrong, and that’s time wasted for the client and everyone on our team.
3. Banish jargon.
I’m an experienced designer and embody the creative process every day. But I understand the person across the table from me in a client workshop does not. So, I avoid the tendency to use industry terms and abstract narration. It may sound superb in my head, but, most of the time, it doesn’t translate to the client. A nod and a smile are a creative’s worst enemies unless expectations are clearly defined.
4. Remember, you’re speaking to adults.
Just because the client doesn’t understand the industry lingo, doesn’t mean I need to hand-feed it to them. We talk to our clients like the adults they are, and they do the same for us. There’s nothing worse than being patronized, intentionally or not, when you’re a paying client.
5. Use comparisons to define expectations.
Conroy is to Batman as Farley is to Tommy Boy. Let me explain. Though my colleagues may disagree, Kevin Conroy (yes, from the animated series) was the the quintessential batman — I picture batman, I hear his voice.
One of the easiest ways to invite understanding of a visual concept is to use a comparison. Here’s an example of how we put this into practice at Proof:
Scene: Proof Branding Headquarters. We’re conducting an Understand Your Brand (UYB) workshop and we’re talking aesthetic.
Client: We really need something, bold, edgy, and happy.
Designer: Let’s develop this a bit further. Write down three things you’ve seen or noticed that fall under each of those categories. These can be brands, people, etc.
Client writes and vocalizes the 3 choices.
Designer: OK, great. Let’s talk a little bit about why the McDonalds “M” says “bold” to you.
End Scene. Mic Drop.
We get the conversation started, and instead of automatically accepting a client’s descriptors, we make sure we understand them. She says bold but she really means dark color palette. She says edgy but she really means harsh line.
Client communication is pivotal — it can make or break a design, and it can fuel or derail an entire team’s workflow. Clients know what they’re talking about, but as a creative team, it’s on us to make sure we’re speaking their language fluently.